A failure to deliver
Malcolm Cunning, councillor for Linn Ward on Glasgow City Council, calls on Jeremy Corbyn to resign as Leader of the Labour Party.
Over the weekend I was contacted by colleagues asking whether I would be willing to state publicly that I no longer had any confidence in Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. To do so would go against everything I had ever believed in since the day I joined the Labour Party back in 1978, but anyone who follows me on Facebook or Twitter will know how I decided to react.
I clearly recall, back in March 1979, sitting at my desk in Aberdeen while revising for my finals listening to the radio as Michael Foot summed up for the government in the no confidence debate following the failed Scottish referendum. It was a stunning parliamentary performance by a politician of huge intellect and considerable charm. Only Robin Cook’s resignation speech over Iraq and Hilary Benn’s closing contribution in the Syria debate have come close, as parliamentary performances, from the Labour benches in subsequent years.
In October the following year, following Thatcher’s sweeping victory in May 1979, Jim Callaghan resigned as Labour leader and, it was clear to all, only Michael Foot could stop Denis Healey from becoming the next Labour leader. Healey, like Foot, had been forged in the cauldron of pre-war politics and had considerable intellectual gifts. He was, however, a straight talking bruiser who was blamed for selling out to the IMF and, despite his past membership of the Communist Party, was now firmly identified as the right wing candidate. Foot, by comparison had never lost the passion he first displayed in the 1930’s. He was anti EU; anti nuclear; pro trades union and firmly of a left, avowedly socialist, tradition within the party.
When I was approached by other party activists in Aberdeen to urge Michael to stand for the leadership I had no hesitation in doing so. In those distant days this involved writing a letter or, as I did, sending a telegram. Michael Foot stood and won, narrowly; we all know what happened next. Michael was a one of the greatest parliamentarians of the 20th century, he was admired and loved within Labour ranks and by MPs across the House; yet he failed, spectacularly, as a leader. We can only speculate how history might have been different if Healey had won out.
Wind on some 35 years and another Labour leadership contest under very different rules from those that held sway in 1980. I did not vote for Jeremy Corbyn but, given my enthusiasm for Foot in 1980, I entirely understood why so many ordinary members opted for a candidate who appeared to offer a return to clear socialist values. In the face of fairly lacklustre campaigns from the other candidates, the passion and enthusiasm of his supporters, if not the candidate himself, had an obvious attraction; even if it was not one which I could now buy into. Corbyn won by a massive margin and, as with the overwhelming majority of members, I was content to do my best to make it work. He was not my choice but he was the leader of my party and I would do damnest to support him.
Corbyn, to quote Hilary Benn, is a good and decent man. He himself recognised that he was an unlikely victor in charge of a PLP who, at best, viewed him with distrust. He went out of his way to appoint members to the Shadow Cabinet who shared few if any of his political priorities. He allowed Hilary Benn to steal the limelight in the Syria debate directly contradicting everything Jeremy himself believed. In almost every single policy area, Jeremy trimmed his sails and, instead of firmly sating his own beliefs, (and those of the members who had voted for him,) he prevaricated, hesitated or postponed to another day. He did so because he wanted to keep the party united; and for that he is to be congratulated. However, it meant that the Labour Party appeared confused and uncertain on every major issue. Sadly, Jeremy has not required the help of a donkey jacket to look inept. He has not provided anything resembling leadership because he is entirely incapable of doing so.
The result of the EU referendum has, rightly, brought matters to a head. Jeremy went on the stump arguing a position which nobody seriously believed he, personally, held to be true. He did his best but he sounded like a vegan recommending the benefits of a rump steak. Foot, to his credit, went into an election on a platform which reflected his genuine beliefs before being rejected overwhelmingly by the electorate. Corbyn has presented a meaningless fudge in which he, nor any other Labour member, has any confidence. His decency, his attempt to find a compromise which could gold the party together, has been his downfall. Had he been able to maintain the passion and vision of his leadership campaign into his actual leadership we might at least be facing glorious failure rather than potentially ignominious irrelevance.
With a heavy heart, I have now sent an email to the General Secretary of the Labour Party calling on Jeremy Corbyn to resign as Leader of the Labour Party. He has failed to provide leadership, passion or anything resembling vision. He has failed to deliver on the momentum of the thousands of members who voted for him and failed to win the trust of those who did not support him. He has all the hallmarks of the accidental leader caught in a role he never really expected to hold and for which he is entirely unsuited.
I wish him well. I wish even better for the Labour Party that I joined in 1978 which, given the rise of xenophobia and narrow nationalism, is the only hope of a rational alternative.